What wood to use to make my own type?

It seems difficult and expensive to find what I want as a complete set and I thought it might be nice to go on the horribly long journey of making my own.

When I was in uni, one of the grad students made a full set of glyphs as part of his thesis by hand, but I don’t remember what hardwood he used.

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usually, end grain cut, hard wood maple.

Just quoting from the Rob Roy Kelly book on wood type, page 50: “Cherry, apple, dogwood, pine, boxwood, mahogany, holly, and maple were preferred woods.” I would add to that list birch, which I have used to make some replacement sorts. Just echoing the previous post, rock maple is considered the most commonly used wood then and now.


It all depends on how you plan to cut the letters.

We used a laser to cut blocks for a number of years, and found that cherry produced the cleanest end product, but maple also worked well. It really didn’t matter if it was end-grain or sawn on plank. It worked the same. There’s a write-up about the process here on Briar Press somewhere.

For hand-cutting you want a softer wood, since cherry / maple are a pain to work with hand tools. Poplar works well, as does select white pine. They are soft enough and have fine enough grain to cut well, but are strong enough to print well if you don’t abuse them. I’ve got hundreds of letters, do-dads, and illustrations that were hand-cut…. and some of them are ~40 years old.

IF you are goinf to hand cut, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1- use good tools. Speedball cutters are not up to the task. I use Pfiel palm tools.
2- keep them sharp. Expect to spend 10 minutes sharpening for every hour spent cutting
3- use a bench hook. Hand-holding a small block is a recipe for injury.
4- use leather finger tip guards. They’ll keep your fingers from getting pressure sore.
5- End grain is hard to cut…. plank cut wood works just fine
6- relax and have fun.

aka Winking Cat Press

I’m pretty sure the legend that is Mark McKellier uses end-grain Beech and sometimes Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) https://mckellier.com